Monday, September 16, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W37: The Great Society, Wives, Slave Play, The Height of the Storm

9/09/19: The Great Society
What: The sequel to All the Way, this is is playwright Robert Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch's second examination of President Lyndon B. Johnson, tracking the decline of his term, as any good intentions are stymied by his need for political maneuvering.
And? Schenkkan and Rauch have now spent two Broadway plays trying to convince me I needed to see one Broadway play about LBJ. I don't remember minding the first play when I saw it, but The Great Society ... this play is nearly three hours when it doesn't even need to be two. It's three hours about how much Johnson failed as a president, as an ally to the African American community, and in the war in Vietnam, without convincing me I should care about whether or not he deserved to fail. I couldn't for the life of me find a story in the series of events I was shown, and once we hit the two hour mark, I became increasingly disengaged and distracted, wondering how much longer this could go on. Brian Cox, though he doesn't attempt LBJ's Texan accent, is excellent, but it's not enough to make this show worth my time.

9/10/19: Wives
What: Playwrights Horizons presents Jaclyn Backhaus's new play, about women defined in history through their relationship to men, but who forge new strong bonds with each other.
And? I loved it. Weird and brilliant and funny and moving, a conjuring really of all of these things and more, in only 80 minutes. While I wasn't bowled over by Backhaus's recent play, India Pale Ale, Wives reminded me of all the things I loved in her other work at Playwrights, Men on Boats. Great stuff.

Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi, and Purva Bedi as Mary Welsh, Martha Gelhorn,
and Hadley Richardson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

9/11/19: Slave Play
What: A Broadway transfer of NYTW's production of Jeremy O. Harris's play about ... I don't want to spoil the content of the play, so for themes I'll say, inherited trauma particularly for the descendants of slaves, the dynamics between violence and sex, and the importance of truly listening in communication.
And? Extraordinary. Uncomfortable. Moving. Funny. Transporting. Frightening. A reflection. Brilliantly acted, brilliantly directed, with a wonderful scenic design by Clint Ramos and genius sound design by Lindsay Jones. My friend Claire Warden is the Intimacy and Fight Director for this production, and I love that she did both, for in this story, the line separating intimacy and combat is thin as a spider's webbing. I'm still  processing some of the arguments made by the play, and will probably continue to think about them.

Teyonah Parris and Paul Alexander Nolan as Kaneisha and Jim in the NYTW
run. Photo by Joan Marcus.

9/13/19: The Height of the Storm
What: Playwright Florian Zeller continues his exploration of dementia, as well as his device of treating the play itself, and what we see with our own eyes, as the most unreliable narrator of all.
And? Beautifully written, a poem of confusion, of three possible permutations of a weekend visit to Andre and Anne's house by their two adult daughters. Has Anne passed away in the herb garden? Did Andre fall into the river, or just drift off into his dementia? Are the two planning to die together where they were married? It's all of these, and it's none of these. Even when you're sure that one character is dead, they're still in front of you, in the flesh, responsive and listening, and seen and heard by their family. Zeller has a very particular voice and style, and I really appreciate what I've gotten to see of it so far.

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